La semaine en France: Week 22

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Dariusz Dudka’s 86th-minute equaliser in Auxerre’s 1-1 draw at home to Lille last Sunday may ultimately prove to be nothing more than a footnote to the Ligue 1 season, but Lille will know that it could very well become one of the goals that defines the title race.

Had Lille held onto the lead earned by Moussa Sow’s sublime overhead bicycle kick early in the first half, they would have finished the weekend seven points clear at the top of the table. Sow’s inattention at a late free-kick allowed Dudka to spring the offside trap, however, and give the chasing pack fresh hope that Lille may yet stumble in the home straight.

It was a weekend of false starts for the title pretenders. Paris Saint-Germain remain second, but a 1-0 loss at Rennes prevented them from capitalising on Dudka’s helping hand. Yacine Brahimi scored the only goal, leaving Claude Makelele for dust and firing into the bottom-right corner, as Rennes put the 5-1 drubbing at Sochaux and their Coupe de France upset against Reims squarely behind them.

Marseille are a point behind PSG and Rennes in fourth, but their 1-0 win at home to rock bottom Arles-Avignon was a wretched affair that will have inspired little confidence as Manchester United loom on the horizon in the Champions League. The fare was better at Lyon-Bordeaux on Sunday night but there were no goals, as OL dropped three places to sixth and Les Girondins fell to ninth.

With Dimitri Payet cast out to the reserves, an Emmanuel Rivière brace gave Saint-Etienne a 2-1 win at Montpellier that lifted the 10-time champions above Lyon into fifth place on goals scored ahead of Saturday’s second Derby du Rhône of the season. Moussa Sissoko was also on target twice as Toulouse sank Monaco 2-0.

Ligue 1 results
Saturday: Brest 2-1 Nancy, Caen 0-2 Lorient, Lens 1-1 Valenciennes, Marseille 1-0 Arles-Avignon, Montpellier 1-2 Saint-Etienne, Nice 1-0 Sochaux, Rennes 1-0 PSG; Sunday: Auxerre 1-1 Lille, Toulouse 2-0 Monaco, Lyon 0-0 Bordeaux.

Ligue 1 table

Goal of the week: Moussa Sow (Auxerre 1-1 Lille):

Player of the week: Nicolas Douchez (Rennes)
Having conceded nine goals in his two previous appearances, Rennes goalkeeper Douchez could have been forgiven for feeling a bit jittery prior to the visit of PSG but he produced some splendid stops to keep the Parisians at bay, saving smartly from Clément Chantôme and Guillaume Hoarau in the second half before a finger-tip save prevented Nenê from equalising with a rasping drive in the game’s dying stages. The 30-year-old’s contract expires in June and Monday’s edition of L’Equipe speculated that PSG could be his next port of call.

Quote of the week
“Man up, you bunch of poofs!”
- One of the many banners that greeted Marseille – ‘Move your arses!’ was another one - ahead of their game with Arles. Following complaints from gay rights organisations, the Ligue 1 authorities are investigating.

Stat of the week (courtesy of OptaJean)
Laurent Blanc has won five of his first seven games as France coach. Only Gérard Houllier and Jacques Santini have previously done as well.

Top goalscorers
16: Moussa Sow (Lille)
13: Nenê (PSG)
11: Youssef El-Arabi (Caen), Kévin Gameiro (Lorient)
10: Gervinho (Lille)
9: Brown Ideye (Sochaux), Modibo Maïga (Sochaux)
8: Bafétimbi Gomis (Lyon), Lisandro López (Lyon), Anthony Modeste (Bordeaux), Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne), Grégory Pujol (Valenciennes)
7: Olivier Giroud (Montpellier)

Top assists
10: Marvin Martin (Sochaux)
7: Anthony Mounier (Nice), Jaroslav Plašil (Bordeaux)
6: Gervinho (Lille), Ludovic Giuly (PSG), Eden Hazard (Lille) 
5: Marco Estrada (Montpellier)

Week 23 fixtures
Saturday: Arles-Avignon v Montpellier, Bordeaux v Caen, Monaco v Lorient, Nancy v Auxerre, PSG v Lens, Sochaux v Marseille, Saint-Etienne v Lyon; Sunday: Rennes v Nice, Valenciennes v Brest, Lille v Toulouse

Les Bleus
France extended their winning run under Laurent Blanc to five games with a 1-0 win over Brazil in Wednesday night’s repeat of the 1998 World Cup final. Karim Benzema netted the winner early in the second half, after Hernanes had been shown a straight red card for a Nigel de Jong-style kung fu kick on the Real Madrid striker five minutes short of half-time. Brazil were the better side in the early stages, with France looking nervous at the back on a badly pock-marked pitch, but the sending off changed everything and Hugo Lloris was not called into action until forced to save at the feet of substitute Hulk in injury time.

Philippe Mexès was named man of the match after a tremendously authoritative performance at centre-back that boasted towering headers, kamikaze tackles and confident sorties deep into Brazilian territory with the ball. Jérémy Menez turned the page on his disappointing showing against Belarus, meanwhile, by laying on the winner for Benzema with a sinewy dribble down the right flank. Not everyone was happy though. Yoann Gourcuff was whistled by some supporters as he was substituted in the latter stages, while L’Equipe deemed Benzema’s virtuoso performance worthy of a stingy 6/10.

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